Oak Park village hall

The Oak Park Village Board voted unanimously, March 1, not to monetarily penalize the Oak Park Regional Housing Center (OPRHC) for not providing the village with its financial audit for the year of 2019 on time. 

“We want you to sustain yourself,” Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb told OPRHC Executive Director Athena Williams.

The funding agreement between OPRHC and the village dictated that in order for the housing center to receive the $300,000 amount in full, the OPRHC had to provide the audit on time. 

“In the event that the 2020 financial audit is provided to the Village between July 2, 2021 and August 1, 2021, funding under this Agreement shall be reduced by 50 percent, which equals $150,000,” the agreement stated. Staff recommended the village board hold to the financial penalties.

In light of the financial struggles during the pandemic as well as the management issues Williams inherited upon assuming the role of executive director in 2019, the village board voted to remove the financial penalties of the agreement.

“Given the state that Athena inherited as executive director of the housing center and the fact is, we had a pandemic last year — everyone’s struggling,” said Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla. “I want to work with the housing center because I do support what the housing center continues to do for our village.” 

OPRHC’s inconsistent track record of turning in audits to the village predates the tenure of Williams, who has committed to rectifying previously mismanaged areas. The center has been under transition since 2018, according to Williams.

She explained to the board that the current delay in turning in the 2019 audit stems from the OPRHC playing catch up on completing overdue audits from previous years. The 2019 audit, she anticipates, will be completed April 1. The audit itself cost the housing center $15,000, according to Williams.

Trustee Simone Boutet had concerns that the consistent trimming of OPRHC’s village funding contributed to its current situation.

“We’ve cut the housing center budget year after year; I’m concerned we’ve cut them to the point that they can’t function,” said Boutet, who worried that the housing center could not afford the staff to carry out the duties required in the financial agreement to receive village funding.

Trustee Dan Moroney said OPRHC received funding from the village in the amount of roughly $700,000, calling it “not an insignificant amount.”

Moroney pointed to 2020 budget discussions, where OPRHC had committed to hiring a development coordinator, updating their strategic plan, establishing an online registration system, as well as developing an app and holding quarterly fair-housing events.

“Certainly, there has been a pandemic, but none of these things have really come to fruition,” said Moroney. “If this is a value, I think it’s important to ensure that we’re getting the bang for the buck.”

Moroney said he supported staff’s recommendations, but later voted to remove the financial penalties.

Williams asked Moroney where he got the $700,000 amount, which Moroney stated came from the village’s general fund and Community Development Block Grant funding.

“No, actually for 2020, that amount would have been $463,000,” Williams corrected. 

Moroney apologized to Williams, but said he stood by his previous statement that the funds were “not an insignificant amount.”

Williams set the record straight regarding Moroney’s account of the housing center’s deliverables laid out during 2020 budget discussions and the progress made to achieve them. 

“If I recall, it was you in particular who said we should have 375 affirmative moves,” Williams told Moroney. “During COVID, we actually had 241 affirmative moves.”

She noted that the housing center was supposed to have 500 moves within the village. 

“During COVID, we had 513 moves within the village,” Williams said.

The housing center was supposed to make 15 new potential client contacts, according to Williams.

“We made 1,785 unique contacts outside of the 1,040 clients that we registered in 2020,” she said. 

Williams added that she wasn’t thrilled with the 2019 strategic plan, and told the board she has had trouble trying to recruit talent with the housing center’s limited funds.

Decreasing OPRHC reliance on village funding, another housing center goal, has also been difficult to achieve due to finances, Williams said.

“Most funders don’t want to fund the Oak Park Regional Housing Center because we’re seeing over 200,000 clients for a community that has an average household income of $95,000 or greater,” she said.

Potential funders are more concerned with funding organizations catering to lower-income areas.

“We all need to work together,” said Abu-Taleb. “We’re not trying to penalize you; we just need the paperwork, and we need to move on.”

Walker-Peddakotla praised Williams for the progress made, noting that the housing center, despite difficulties, had hired two key positions: a grant writer and a development coordinator.

Trustee Jim Taglia said he understood why village staff suggested financial penalties but thought implementing them would not prove helpful. 

Abu-Taleb supported giving a portion of the money to OPRHC ahead of receiving the audit, so the housing center could pay its staff. 

“Where are you with payroll for the next couple of weeks?” Abu-Taleb asked Williams, who said that the center could afford to make one more payroll.

The board agreed to give the housing center $75,000 of the $300,000 stipulated in the current funding grant agreement to help OPRHC make payroll and pay bills. 

The housing center will receive the rest of the funding after it turns in the 2019 audit report, which the village must receive by April 15. 

Trustee Deno Andrews did not attend the March 1 village board meeting.

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